Unhinge Wrists Correctly for a Powerful Downswing, Golf Tip

Delivering a powerful blow to the golf ball requires keeping the wrists hinged for as long as possible on the downswing. This action, often referred to as “lag,” begins in an unlikely place: the golfer's lower body.

Many amateur players start the downswing with their arms. No good. This causes the wrists to unhinge early, draining power from the swing and creating an array of ugly miss-hits. A proper downswing sequence is led by the legs, hips and torso, which effectively pull the chest, shoulders and, finally, the arms toward the ball.

Among contemporary pros, Sergio Garcia provides the best example of explosive wrist unhinging. As he shifts from backswing to downswing, Garcia actually increases his wrist hinge, creating a tight angle between the club shaft and his left arm. (This move is called “downcock.”) He maintains this angle for a remarkably long time, eventually unloading the wrists with the ferocity of a cracking whip.

Of course, only a minuscule percentage of golfers boast Garcia's flexibility, strength and timing (i.e., talent). For everyday players, the unhinging of the wrists follows this sequence:

  • Led by the left heel planting on the ground, then the left hip, torso and shoulders rotating toward the target, the arms and hands are pulled downward as the downswing starts.
  • As the left arm reaches the point where it's parallel to the ground, the wrists remain cocked as they were at the top of the backswing. A powerful lag finds the club shaft and left arm forming an angle of 90°, or even less, at this instant.
  • As the hands pass hip-height on the way to the ball, the forearms rotate and the wrists begin to unhinge.
  • At the instant of impact, the wrists have unhinged completely, with the left arm and shaft forming a straight line to the ball.

Here's a drill to help you develop a strong, proper unhinging of your wrists:

  • Grip a towel or a short (2' – 4') length of rope as though holding a golf club.
  • Swing to the top and pause briefly, letting the towel fall onto your shoulders.
  • Pull the hands down from the top; the towel should slide across your shoulders.
  • Snap the towel through the impact zone; focus on making a distinct “whoosh” sound at the bottom of your swing.
  • Repeat several times in quick succession, and perform the drill regularly.

One more thing to remember: Keep your grip pressure light, your arms soft and free from tension. The wrists must be relaxed to work correctly.

Summary of Wrist Hinge

Summary of Wrist Hinge

Wrist hinge is created in two separate parts of the golf swing. First, when you take the club away, the wrists will begin to hinge as the right arm bends. For some, it starts as soon as the club swings away from the ball. When the right arm bends it forces the left arm to rotate and the hands to set. The angle between the club shaft and the left arm should be at least 45 degrees when the left arm is parallel to the ground.

The second time that the wrists should hinge is during the transition of the backswing to the downswing. While the lower body initiates the downswing the upper body is still moving backwards slightly because of momentum. Once the lower body grabs hold and begins to guide the upper body to the downswing, the re-coil causes a second setting of the wrists and a bending of the shaft.

Much power is maintained in the second wrist set and shaft bend. Ideally the power will be released just past the bottom of the downswing. The shaft bend will release first because the club will be traveling faster than your hands. The wrists, as well as the right arm, will still have a slight hinge at impact and then both will release after impact.

Mechanically it is better to not over-manipulate the wrists if you are trying to perfect a timing where you unhinge the wrists correctly for a powerful downswing. It is best if you work on creating a network of levers beginning with a connection of your upper arm to the left chest on the take away. That one connection will start the chain of events that will force the right arm to bend. Once that happens you have created your first lever, the right arm bend.

Your second lever is the wrist hinge. Both levers are important. Your right arm lever provides the most power of the two. Your wrist hinge does deliver power by keeping the shaft leaning forward of the club head at impact and it also helps keep the club face square. The unhinging of the wrists happens slowly on the downswing until after impact when the right arm straightens out and the wrists follow suit.

Players who hit powerful shots are able to maintain the tight angle between the wrists and forearms on the downswing by moving the upper body, arms and hands as a package on the downswing. That is to say, everything does not swing down at the same time, but all of the parts stay relative to one another. The right shoulder, for instance, is pulled down slightly when the lower body initiates the downswing. The hands should lower at a relative pace and position when that happens.

Wrist hinge in the golf swing is really about achieving it early in the swing then allowing it to deepen on the transition of the downswing. By using the core of your body to swing down it will help you maintain your wrist hinge longer so that you can achieve greater power when wrists do unhinge just past impact. The wrists do not unhinge before impact because if they did then the shaft would not be leaning forward at impact and you would lose power.

As the arms swing down to a position to where the club is almost parallel with target line the right hand is moving towards the top of the shaft. That is what helps square the face. If the hands aren't trending towards the top of the shaft on the downswing, they aren't in a “hinging” position. This position is crucial for a correct shaft lean at impact and for the act of “hitting down” on the ball. The wrist hinge will stay in place until after impact and then release shortly after as the arms straighten.

Set the Club First

Set the Club First

In order to unhinge your wrists properly on the downswing, your wrists have to be hinged in the first place. To do so, you have to have a solid backswing that transitions your club into a position where you can release the club's power just past the bottom of the downswing. That is when your wrists will unhinge. You have a lot of work to do before you get to that point in the swing.

Before you start working on your swing, first check your grip to ensure that it is strong enough to set the club. A weak grip is one of the biggest antagonists of a good release. Try setting up to the ball like normal, then taking your right hand off of the club. Try swinging the club back with your left hand only. If when you take the club back you have trouble setting it, your grip is probably weak. Change your grip so that it feels strong enough that you can set it with just the left hand. You might have to move your left hand (and don't forget your wrist) on the grip to the right. Keep swinging back and making adjustments until you can set the club at perpendicular to the ground when your left arm is parallel to the ground.

Next, make sure that your ball position matches your grip. If your ball position is too far forward you may not release the club in order to try and hold the club face square longer. And when the ball is too far back you don't get the opportunity to unhinge the wrists on the downswing.

Your arms need to hang down loosely at address for several reasons. Tension can not only prevent you from releasing the club, but it can stop you from setting the club in the first place. Also, if one or both elbows is pointing out then the wrists will not hinge or unhinge correctly. In addition, if you are reaching for the ball at address your wrists will not work properly in the swing. Your arms will feel tense, but if you can't seem to loosen them up then it could be because you are standing too far away from the ball.

The next thing you want to do is make sure that you are setting the club early in the swing. Take a few ½ backswings. The idea is to get the club head swinging up as soon as you can by swinging the arms, bending the right arm and hinging the wrists. The higher the club head goes on these ½ swings, the lighter the club will feel.

Complete your ½ backswings with a turn now. This should put you in a pretty good backswing position and it should also allow you to support your arm and hand position. Don't swing back too far. After completing your backswing a few times, add a transitional downswing move by turning your lower body so the left hip is turning over the left heel. This is where you should feel a deepening of your wrist angle/hinge at the top of the downswing.

It's really important that during your backswing you set your club at a time where it is controllable for you. This is the key to maximizing wrist hinge power on the downswing. For golfers who play sparingly, don't practice very much, are not very strong or perhaps have a handicap, it is imperative you work on setting the club from the moment you take the club away. It's the only way to gain power and control. For experienced or strong golfers, you may be able to set the club later but remember that the later you set the club the more that the timing of your body will play in your swing.
Hinge early so that you can unhinge your wrists correctly for a powerful downswing.

Where the Wrists Hinge to Create Lag on the Downswing

Where the Wrists Hinge to Create Lag on the Downswing

Lag is defined as the angle between the wrists, left arm and the shaft. Good players will create lag in the golf swing which allows them to “hit down” on the golf ball. Conversely, most amateurs lose this lag during the downswing because the right arms straightens early causing a scooping effect. This motion will create an early release and inconsistent contact resulting is poor ball striking.

Lag is the size of the angle created between the left arm, wrist and hands and the club shaft. The narrower that angle, the more lag. You want a narrow angle on the downswing in order to create power. If you fail to start narrowing the angle (or setting the club) on the backswing, then in order to create power you would have to amass a huge amount of lag on the downswing.

Creating a substantial amount of lag on the downswing can happen but to rely solely on this move to create wristhinge is dangerous for the overall timing of your swing. Think about the fact that you need to be able to control the club throughout the swing. Hinging the club makes it light and controllable. If you do not hinge the club in the back swing it could be difficult to manage at the top of the backswing.

Lag also involves the stress or bend we place on the club shaft at the start of the downswing. In fact this very change of direction from the top of the backswing to the start of the downswing adds more load in the club than that which we created when setting the club during the backswing. In other words, very shortly after we start down toward the impact area, we have more stored power in our club than we had when we reached the top of our swing.

After setting the club properly in the backswing, the transition from backswing to downswing is the best time to create more hinge, or lag, for power. So, how can you create MORE hinge, or lag. Have you ever tried the paddle ball game where there is a ball with a string attached to it and the other end of the string is attached to the paddle?
Some people concentrate on only making contact between the ball and the paddle and weakly pop the ball up and down. Rather than using the elasticity of the string to guide the ball back to the paddle the user relies more on gravity to bring the ball down. Not a lot of power in that pop.

Others use the elasticity of the string to their advantage. They know that if they hit the ball somewhat forcefully the string will stretch. While the string stretches, they can pull the paddle away from the ball causing an even tighter stretch while creating even more force when the ball hits the paddle again. The ball is not creating more power, the string is.
When transitioning from backswing to downswing, your hands and arms are essentially the ball on the other end of the paddle. The lower body is the paddle, pulling back and creating a stretch that will eventually force the ball to change directions. The ball is suspended while it transitions from going back to coming down. The faster the club, arms and hands travel back versus the speed with which the lower body pulls forward is going to create a greater amount of lag.

A massive amount of energy reversal takes place in the transition of a professional's golf swing creating lag. It is imperative once that lag is created that it is retained, and therein lies the key of a powerful golf swing. It is not enough to just create a large amount of wrist hinge. It is critical to retain and deliver the club at an angle where the shaft is leaning forward at impact and the wrists unhinge downward, but not completely, until after impact.

How You Become Unhinged

How You Become Unhinged

There are many things that can prevent the wrists from unhinging prior to impact. Here are just a few keys to keep in mind:

  • The lower body must initiate the downswing.
  • If the lower body does not initiate the downswing then obviously the upper body does. Unfortunately too many bad things happen when the upper body moves first in the downswing to get a proper position for a good release. In order to maintain the angle of your wrist hinge your upper body movement needs to be preserved momentarily. If the upper body is trying to provide power in transition then there is too much movement to keep the wrist angle needed.
  • In order to maintain wrist angle on the downswing the arms must stay in front of your body. If you are an over-swinger then there is a good chance you become unhinged too early in the downswing.
  • If your arms are not in front of your body on the downswing then the body will stop until the arms catch up. The result is what golfers irreverently refer to as casting. When you cast your arms straighten too soon and the angle between your wrist and forearm is lost.
  • Tension kills and tension in the hands will kill your transition.
  • If you are lucky enough to create a good lag angle then do yourself a favor and don't get greedy. Trying to hold on to the angle with your hands is a form of tension that will work against what you. The tension you place on the grip will force the club head away from your body and will ruin your wrist angle.
  • Another transition killer is weak core muscles.

You may be scratching your head on this one but it could be one of the most common swing flaws in relation to wrist hinge position and release. The lower body initiates the downswing and while it is pulling in one direction, the upper body is moving in the opposite direction. That mean there is a lot of resistance happening in the core muscle group. If you aren't strong in the core area or if you have tight or injured muscles, it makes it extremely difficult to maintain your posture on the downswing.

The common result of a weak core muscle area would be that the shoulders and arms would be thrown out and away from the body. The arms would straighten early and therefore there would be no shaft lean forward at impact and no wrist hinge or lag.

If the right hand isn't trending towards the top of the shaft on the downswing, your wrists aren't in a “hinging” position. Keep this thought in mind if you feel as though no matter what you do you can't seem to get the shaft to lean forward at impact. Just remember that your right shoulder and arm should still feel as though you are swinging from underneath. It's just the wrist hinge that you want to feel as though is hitting down on the ball.

Drills to Unhinge Your Wrists Correctly for a Powerful Downswing

Drills to Unhinge Your Wrists Correctly for a Powerful Downswing

Swoosh Drill

  • Turn your club upside down and grip down by the club head. Use a shorter club to begin with and as you get better with the drill, try longer clubs.
  • While gripping by the club head, set up as if to take a normal full swing.
  • Swing at normal speed.
  • Listen for the “swoosh.” Ideally it will occur just past where impact would take place.
  • If you do not hear a swoosh or if the swoosh sounds more like a swoosh in slow motion, swing harder. If you hear a swoosh as you begin the downswing, you are releasing the club too early.

Pull down drill

  • This is a rehearsal drill.
  • Set up next to the golf ball.
  • Swing back at full speed and then stop at the top of the backswing.
  • Maintaining your arm and wrist position, only initiate a downswing with the lower body and then stop.
  • Repeat Step 4 but this time allowing your arms to drop and shoulders to turn slightly, but still maintaining your wrist angle. Drop your arms to about belt-high.
  • Repeat Step 5 but this time after you stop your downswing, swing back again and then down and through to your finish.
  • Try to feel as though your arms and wrists are the last parts of your body that release.

Pull down drill at the gym or with bands/ at home

  • The premise is the same as the pull down drill. You will need either the pulley machine at the gym or a band or rubber tubing stuck through the top of a door.
  • You will want to stand in your address position and be able to grip the pulley or band with your hands around shoulder level (depending on flexibility.)
  • Until you are comfortable with the amount of resistance you will be getting from your pulley or band, go through steps #4 and #5 above slowly.
  • Once the exercise can be done smoothly try adding a little more resistance and performing the drill slowly again. This will help you build your core muscles and will teach your hands and arms to support the club in the correct position as you begin your downswing.

Downhill Drag and Through Drill

  • This drill will help you feel the correct unhinging of the wrists for a powerful downswing.
  • Pick a lie that is moderately downhill and place your golf ball.
  • Using a 6-iron, set up to the golf ball as you would normally with one exception; the ball position should be a couple of inches BEHIND your right foot (for a right-handed golfer.)
  • Next, turn your lower body and move your hands in front of the ball, but don't move the ball yet.
  • Now using the lower and upper body turn while maintaining your hand and arm position, pull the ball down the target line.
  • As the ball reaches the area where the club would normally impact it, you will feel the ball go down and the club pull over the top of the ball.
  • Once you start losing contact with the ball, turn through a couple of feet and release your arms and hands.